Title: Girl in the Shadows
Author: Gwenda Bond
Publication Date: July 5, 2016
Synopsis: Eighteen-year-old Moira Mitchell grew up in the shadows of Vegas’s stage lights while her father’s career as a magician soared. More than anything, Moira wants to be a magician too, but her father is dead set against her pursuing magic.
When an invitation to join the Cirque American mistakenly falls into Moira’s possession, she takes action. Instead of giving the highly coveted invitation to its intended recipient, Raleigh, her father’s handsome and worldly former apprentice, Moira takes off to join the Cirque. If she can perform alongside its world-famous acts, she knows she’ll be able to convince her dad that magic is her future.
But when Moira arrives, things take on an intensity she can’t control as her stage magic suddenly feels like…real magic. To further distract her, Raleigh shows up none too pleased at Moira’s presence, all while the Cirque’s cocky and intriguing knife thrower, Dez, seems to have it out for her. As tensions mount and Moira’s abilities come into question, she must decide what’s real and what’s an illusion. If she doesn’t sort it out in time, she may forever remain a girl in the shadows.
Four days later, I turned the triple-cherry-red convertible that I’d inherited from Dad when I got my license onto the bumpy, unpaved road to the Cirque American’s winter quarters. The intensity of the everglade- green foliage hurt my eyes. Not surprising, since they were gritty from a thirty-six-hour drive with as few stops to rest as possible. I had pulled over at a gas station to do a quick primp and put on my simple costume, and now was so full of nerves I thought I might vibrate right out of my skin.
Could I do this? Dad didn’t think so. I almost understood his objection—it was true that no female magician had ever become as famous as the top male ones. Magic was still a man’s world, a boys’ club. But that only made me more determined to be the first: the first woman as well-known for her magic as Houdini or David Blaine or, well, Dad.
It hadn’t felt good to abandon him to come here. But he’d forced me into this.
I had trundled contritely into his office the day after our fight with a made-up story about how I’d seen the light and would be practical from that moment on—starting with a precollege program across the country at Cornell over the summer. I handed him a forged letter about it and told him I’d neglected to mention it because I thought he’d make me go. He hadn’t been happy about my imminent departure, but what could he say? Stay here with me and learn magic? Nope.
So here I was.
The Cirque grounds came into view ahead, swarming with people. The uneven rows of RVs and trailers, many having seen better days despite being painted with murals or the Cirque’s swirling logo, didn’t match up with what I’d conjured in my head.
You expected Las Vegas hotels and neon and flashing lights and the sound of the next jackpot always nearby.
I found a dusty parking spot beside a few other cars and trucks, some with campers hitched to the back. Red buildings were clustered in the distance like bright gemstones around a crown jewel—in this case, the enormous red-and-white-striped tent at the top of the slope. After I got out of the car, I stood looking at it for a long moment.
My destination and, I hoped, my destiny.
I tugged a short tailored tuxedo jacket over my simple black pants and fitted white shirt, and felt face powder begin to settle into my pores with a sting as the Florida humidity summoned forth sweat. In the jacket pockets, I stashed two custom decks of the slightly smaller, bridge-sized cards many magicians preferred, and a pair of handcuffs, just in case. I’d brought the equipment for my daring coffin escape, broken down into component pieces in the trunk. But I wanted to survey the scene first.
A spaghetti-thin blond boy with a duffel bag draped over one knobby elbow breezed past me and asked, “You run off from a gay wedding?” He laughed at my feminine tux.
His laugh wasn’t mean per se, but my eyes narrowed. Several of the women who worked at Dad’s show were lesbians or bi, and I’d been in one couple’s wedding.
“What if I was?” I asked. “And it would just be a wedding, period.” Another boy drew up beside the first and punched him in the shoulder—hard enough that he took a step back. Then the new boy
turned to me. He must not have noticed me before his friend spoke, because his once-over went on way too long. Long enough to turn into staring.
I ordered my makeup to stay put, sweat or no sweat, and tried to hide any reaction to the exam. Distressingly, I found it difficult to be offended.
The boy was tall, wearing a black tank top that showed off a tan and a strong build. Long brown hair brushed his chin, and his eyes flashed like pennies tossed into the air. I had a trick where I threw a handful of pennies and caught them on the return trip only to reveal an empty palm. He should have been as easy to dismiss as those coins were to make vanish, given that being cute didn’t make up for having bad taste in friends. But he wasn’t. There was something about the cut of his jawline as he angled it when he saw me neutrally returning his examination that made me wonder what his story was.
“Ignore him. He’s an idiot,” he said, finally.
“I can believe he’s an idiot. What’s your excuse?” When he looked amused but didn’t say anything, I added, “For staring.”
“Sorry. There’s something . . . about you,” he said. “Your eyes. It was almost like I recognized you. But I don’t think we’ve met.”
My eyes were a perfectly ordinary green. I rolled them. “We haven’t.” No way I’d have forgotten.
“What are you?” he asked. There was a vague lilt to his voice, not quite an accent. “Here for, I mean.”
In answer, I slipped my hand into my pocket and whipped out a deck of cards. This was no time to be flashy and put on the cuffs for a trick of my own design, so I executed a perfect circle fan with the cards instead, thrusting them to one side and forming them into a complete circle. The backs were red and black and white, patterned to make a round roulette wheel.
The circle fan looked easy, done right. This was.
The other boy cackled in response and nudged the brown-haired boy’s shoulder. To his credit, he stepped away from his howler monkey of a friend.
“Name’s Desmond, but you can call me Dez,” he said, tipping his chin down to me before starting to walk away. “And that’s not magic,” he added, pointing at my cards.
Yes, it was. It wasn’t what I was most proud of, but the hours of practice that single technique had required to master scrolled through my brain, the endless time spent training my fingers to find the right position automatically. I could count on one hand the number of magicians who could do it as well as me.
“It’s impressive anyway,” he tossed over his shoulder.
I stood in offended silence. He stopped and called back, “Auditions are this way, Girl Who Hasn’t Told Me Her Name Yet.”
I could have introduced myself then, but I decided it was smarter to keep something up my sleeve. Still, I trailed them through the grass and vehicles, arrogant Dez and his cackling sidekick. Dez had one of the black envelopes in his left hand. I was curious what his act was.
We reached a table set up outside the giant tent, where a few business-suited women were collecting invites and checking names off a list. I waited until Dez was done signing in before I approached. The petite woman taking names and dispensing numbers barely even glanced at the much-labored-over fake ID that provided me with a dif- ferent last name. I hadn’t been able to resist giving it a showy flair, so my new handle was Moira Miracle.
Mostly I didn’t want Dad to know I was here, which would be inevitable if people found out I was his daughter. I also worried my real identity would set expectations I couldn’t live up to.
I handed her the black invitation.
She squinted at it, then at her list, before frowning up at me. “This wasn’t yours,” she said. “We’ve already given this spot to its rightful owner.”
Crap. This was something I hadn’t prepared for.
“But it, um, found its way to me. So you might as well give me a chance?” I hated that it sounded like a question. That it was a question.
The woman cleared her throat.
And Raleigh stepped into view, dressed in his full stage suit and a top hat embroidered with a spooky skeletal head. “There was a lot of confusion when I showed up without my invite, Pixie. But now everything is clear to me,” he said, drawl more pronounced than usual. Raleigh never showed annoyance in an out-of-control way. “You picked my pocket.”
I couldn’t believe this. “I thought you dropped it on purpose.” “I didn’t drop it.”
“I’m not lying. I—”
“Regardless,” the suited woman said, “you can only audition with an invite. There were a limited number distributed, and this one’s taken. He’s already been seen and hired. Sorry.”
I felt like I’d been sucker punched. “Raleigh?” I had to stoop to pleading with him to help me.
“Does he even know you’re here?” he asked. He meant Dad, of course.
Dez appeared beside us. “Problem?” he asked, giving the woman at the table a smile I would’ve had to admit, if pressed by some instrument of medieval torture, was charming. And practically irresistible based on her eye-batting reaction to it. “I can vouch that she’s an incredible magician,” he said.
Raleigh was giving Dez a who’s this guy? look.
“He’s right,” I said. “And I’m guessing if Raleigh’s hired, then your main magic act is covered, though he might let me open?”
Raleigh shook his head, and I rushed on. “But even if I can’t do that, I’d still like to audition to work the midway crowd. You’ll need people to keep them lingering instead of going to the main tent before it’s time. Close-up is what I’m most experienced at.” While I had my bigger illusion ready to go, I’d never performed it for a crowd. Getting a spot was my main goal, and I was sure I could convince Raleigh, given time.
The woman glanced between Raleigh and me, and then at Dez, still smiling and charming her pants off for some reason.
Please, please give me a chance. I considered holding my breath. Maybe if I went for four minutes, she’d be impressed enough to cave.
“I’ll have to make a note,” the woman finally said. “But I’ll allow you inside, Miss Miracle. Without an invitation, you’d better be a miracle.”
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